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We talked with Musa Karbadağ, ex Co-President of the Solidarity and mutual aid Association for families of prisoners (TAYD-DER) in Izmir.

As demonstrated in the recently published annual report on violations of rights committed in Turkey, the year 2020 revolved with still many cases brought to the attention of Law establishments.

Since April 2020, thanks to new amendments to the law on the management of sentences, in order to fight against the propagation of the COVID-19 virus in detention centers, 90 thousand detainees were liberated. However, were excluded from these amendments and liberations, and are still behind bars, those that were judged under the heading of “terrorist”, those who are sick, journalists, academics, intellectuals, writers, artists and politicians whose activities cannot be considered from any other viewpoint than that of freedom of opinion and expression. There are also numerous mentions of gravely ill prisoners who, according to medical reports, should be liberated immeidately, yet who are maintained under incarceration.

Two full months have now evolved in the hunger strikes begun in Turkish prisons by political detainees, as a protest against the violations of rights to which they are subjected and against the total isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK.

Musa Karbadağ, is the ex Co-President of the TAYD-DER association in Izmir who, before being forced to leave Turkey and arriving in Germany, had done important work about violations of rights in prisons, violations occupying an important place in the political history of Turkey.

We spoke to him about exile, but also about prisons and the hunger strikes, still in the news.


Dear Musa, our readers will have no trouble in guessing that, given the constraints generated by politicans in Turkey, you are currently in exile in Europe. Could you share with us, in your own understanding, why you are in exile today, and how this came to be?

In judicial terms, exile is considered a kind of penal sanction. Exile forces people to live outside their place of residence. But when we look at it more closely, in its essence, EXILE is nothing other than the name of a persecution in disguise, wrapped up in a legal cover, clothed as justice.

In the collective memory of the society from which I come, exile, forced displacement, immigration are equivalents for “statelessness” and it generates a profound and psychologically destructive narrative.

In Kurdistan, following the repression of the rebellions of Shêx Seyit and Dersim, the Turkish State started paying attention to everything concerning the Kurdish people. It forbade its language, its culture and went so far as to negate its ontological existence. As if that were not enough, through various resettlement policies, it forced migrations to different regions in Anatolia. Intellectuals, light bearers, tribe leaders, religious erudites who owned up to their affiliation were sent into exile. Whoever showed himself or herself to have a potential as claiming the memory – historical, cultural, linguistic and even existential – of the Kurds, met with the cold face of this political exile. These names that we know from ancient or more recent History are the links of this historical chain of exile: Ihsan Nuri Pasha,1Osman Sabri,2Bedirxan Beg3, Mehmet Uzun, contemporary Kurdish writer and novelist, Mahmut Baksi, Kurdish author and journalist who died in Stockholm in 2000, the film director Yılmaz Güney, who died in Paris in 1984, and the singer Ahmet Kaya who also died in Paris in 2000…

I also grew up with these tales of exile. Part of my family, notably my uncles, were exiled to Qamislo in Syria, following the execution of Molla Selim, the initiator of the Mutki and Cheik Şahbettin revolt that took place from May 26 to August 1927, on account of the imposition by the State of taxes and compulsory military service. My father’s tales of “Serhat-Binhat”4; his stories of visits from one shore to another, still occupy the saddest corner in my consciousness. With time, through everything that my old father had told me and shared about our family, our tribe, I became aware that what we all had in common was the history of Kurdistan, slashed into four pieces.

Musa Karbadağ

TAYD-DER Izmir, action in front of Manisa prison in 2015.

As I grew older, this awareness transformed into a political conscience. Thus, in 1993, I was put on trial by the State Security Court of the time, and imprisoned for close to 10 years. Following my liberation in 2005, as I knew about the prejudices experienced inside prisons, I worked in civilian organizations active in this field. I was Co-President of the Solidarity and Mutual Aid association of families of prisoners (TAYD-DER) in Izmir. The association was shut down by decree a few months after the attempted coup of July 15 2016. The State thus criminalized our institutional activities, arrested me and sent me back to prison. What terrified them really, was an external solidarity movement for prisoners.

After seven months in provisional detention, I was released for judgement under custody, with the prohibition of leaving the country. When I came out of prison, everyone – from journalists to union leaders, from students to academics, deputies, mayors – all of them had started leaving the territory as if they were fleeing Nazi Germany. The prosecution called for prison sentences of several dozens of years against me, including for “belonging to an illegal organization”, so I saw myself forced to leave my country also.

During the period when I planned and ripened this flight project, I used various material and spiritual subterfuge. In my attempt at fleeing, I almost drowned in the Aegean Sea. I only succeeded on setting foot on the Greek island of Chios after my third attempt abord a four-meter long rubber boat.

Musa Karbadağ

October 2015 Izmir. TAYD-DER press conference regarding the death of Ali Alp, a sick prisoner incarcerated in Şakran prison.

On the road to exile, what wore me out the most were the processes regarding migrants. I fully lived through the ambiguity maintained by European countries and volunteer international organizations interested in migration, on notions such as “migrant”, “asylum seeker”, the uncertainties, the incoherences that complicate, delay, render inextricable and exhausting the migratory process for every seeker, including myself.

The time spent in camps is fully a problem in itself, one that goes against human rights and the rights of migrants.

The ambiguity is maintained in the definition fo the word “refugee” and of the status of “asylum seeker”, generating confusion around notions and the fact that the system does not function correctly.

The authorities have thus become incapable of creating and of managing the process of “migration and adaptation” AND of thinking in terms of “integration”. A policy that ONLY takes into account the road to a durable “integration” is not practicable. If prevention and accompanying measures fo migration are not put in place, the system will remain paralyzed for years to come.

Moreover, the current practice here consists in acknowledging an individual solely as a future useful producer, distancing him for the ehtnic and political belonging from which he comes; and I’m not speaking here of countries like Turkey who give precedence to this ignorance, this annihilation. I don’t wish to categorize but, the current policy of welcome will be vain as long as it will assimilate economic refugees migrating toward Europe with political refugees, or vice-versa. For example, my Europeanism was linked to where I lived. I had no economic problems. My reason for coming here, to Germany, was the fact that my ehtnicity and political opinions had become a threat to my survival. My political membership and my world view were the sole reasons for my escape. But here also, the terrain narrows at times, the country in which we find ourselves no longer is much different from the country we came from. The best example of this is the expulsion of Kurdish militants in several countries in which they arrive. There comes a time when being involved in freedom of thought and of conscience comes up against a wall of racism and of xenophobia.

Not a single political migrant, not a single political exile would consider himself or herself as a permanent resident here, even if the streets of Europe were paved in gold. This is what I know and what I say, being a person who sees growing within him, with every passing day, the hope of a return.

As a political prisoner, you have worked both inside and outside prison, following your liberation, on the “violations of rights in prisons”. What are your observations?

Prisons in Turkey now resemble Nazi camps. Nowadays, especially in Kurdish towns, prisons in Turkey are under the rule of the State of Exception (OHAL). In the past, prison conditions were already very strict. There were periods with severe violations of rights. But following the July 15 coup d’état, conditions in prisons have become truly dramatic on the human level. From the simple penitentiary system to carceral establishments, from strip searches to transfers, the deportation policy, the violation of the right of access to books, magazines, and the restrictions on visiting rights, letters, communications… These practices trample individual rights and the identity of detainees, similar to the systematic use of torture. And despite the calls from human rights organization, the AKP-MHP ignores them and does not carry out improvements. Quite the opposite with the recent amendments liberating all criminals and gang members, while maintaining the incarceration of revolutionary opponents, they have not brought any legal change. Yet, according to national and international law, any discrimination based on religion, language, identity, is a crime. The State commits crimes with this iniquitous ruling.

Parallel to the violations of rights such as isolation and strip searches, prisons are now threatened by the pandemic of Covid-19 and similar illnesses. The number of sick prisoners increases daily. Whereas medical doctors attest their liberation is indispendable, because of declarations from local authorities treating them like a “threat to security”, sick and ageing prisoners are abandoned to their fate, in the arms of death.

What is your evaluation on carceral resistance which occupies an important place in the political history of Turkey, past and present, and the hunger strikes in prisons that have been going on for over two months?

Unfortunately, some countries such as Turkey do not act in a spirit of liberty, do not go with the times, and as always, the people pay the price. Very recently, a jurist, militant for human rights who had been detained in a Turkish prison, died from the sequels of a hunger strike she had started to demand justice and a fair trial. The fact a lawyer lost her life by starving herself in order to call for a fair trial, is a disaster for the Rule of Law.

In matters relative to Law, the Turkish State has a lot of bad marks in its report card. The hunger strikes by revolutionary Kurdish opposition prisoners in prisons, ongoing for over two months, are also, in their essence, a call for justice and Right. It is an objection to the absence of will on the part of the State and power, in resolving the Kurdish problem. At the same time, it is an action meant to draw attention of the social opponents, of international public opinion, on the isolation imposed and rendered permanent on M. Öcalan in the prison of İmralı.

If the State of Turkey is determined to live peacefully and in brotherhood with the Kurdish people, it should urgently and without awaiting anyone’s approval, put an end to M. Öcalan’s isolation and set him free. Should the opposite be true, there can occur further losses of human lives in prisons at any moment, as was the case in earlier hunger strikes. If the government is sincere in its discourse on constitutional reform, the only address where this sincerity can be tested is in İmralı prison. It is the lifting of the isolation at İmralı and the re-introduction of a peace process and negotiation with M. Öcalan as representative. This is also the standing demand of the Kurdish people, of the defendors of collective rights and of the ones resisting through their hunger strike. This is how it should be understood.

What would you like to say about the judicial procedures opened against politicians of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) arrested and emprisoned in the framework of operations that demonstrate a true attempt at a “political genocide”?

If truth be told, the Turkish State and the AKP-MHP in power have lost their democratic legitimacy to govern and attempt to kick the ass of those fighting against them and against the solipsistic mentality (Turcity).

Who is fighting the hardest against this system? The Kurds, of course. Consequently, the State and the government cannot tolerate the existence of the Kurd, even in its most legitimate democratic judicial foundation. With the discourse of hatred they have developed, they discriminate against the Kurd, they criminalize him with various excuses and throw him into prison. In doing so, they always shelter behind the rhetoric of the “Fatherland”, the “Nation” and the “Perennity of the State”. Because, since they can’t produce anything new and democratize the system, they need to take refuge behind archaic arguments from past historical luggage.

Since its foundation, the HDP has held a critical and questioning position, as representative of every segment discriminated against. From the nomination of municipal administrators replacing mayors elected through popular vote, to the arrest of the Party’s Co-Presidents and of deputies representing the people’s will; until its dissolution will be announced in the news, everything is the result of the solipsistic and negationist policy. It is an eclipse of reason: this policy cannot endure. Because it isolates Turkey from the world, both economically and diplomatically. The most durable and rational strategy is to go toward a pluralistic, democratic and peaceful constitutional renewal, and to liberate the people’s legitimate representatives, held as political hostages.

What are you doing these days? What is your life like, as an exile?

The condition of exile, migration, is a huge existential void. So as not to drown in the blind well of this savage nothingness, I gather sentences together. As long as my health allows, I try to transmit these accumulated sentences in writing.

I published a collection of poems titled Pepûk 5, the first edition of which is sold out. I have written a series of three short stories that complete one another, thematically speaking: “Su Karadan Güvenli Anne” (Water is safer than earth, mamma). I attempted to express my situation as a stateless migrant, as well as my language and my conscience would allow. The book I’m currently writing will soon find its readers.

Thank you very much, Musa.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Dilek Aykan
Gazeteci, siyasetçi, insan hakları savunucusu. Journaliste, femme politique, défenseure des droits humain. Journalist, political woman, defendor of human rights.